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Aug 7, 2012 06:23 PM

Need help refining plans for Sonoma County

Hi -

My girlfriend and I are heading to Sonoma County later this month -- it will be our second time in wine country. Last time we did Napa only, so this time we are looking to do Sonoma, Dry Creek, Russian River, etc. (accepting that we will not be able to do all of those in 2.5 days). We would really appreciate help in formulating a list of wineries to hit. We have gone through this board fairly thoroughly, but don't feel we have a good sense of how best to accomplish our goals.

Food: We have reservations at the Farmhouse Inn (chose that over Madrona Manor) and are also planning on eating lunch at El Molino central. We are then trying to decide between Willie's Wine Bar, Girl and the Fig, Bistro 29, and BarnDiva for 2 other meals and could use a lunch recommendation in the Healdsburg area.

Wineries: We like chardonnay, syrah, zinfandel, petit syrah and cabernet. Not huge pinot drinkers, but are amenable to having our eyes opened on the chance that we just haven't yet had a really great pinot. (So we would be interested in doing a really great pinot winery in Russian River.) A couple other things. First, we would prefer to go to places with a bit of scenery, either outside or the tasting room itself (e.g., a cave or something). So we would prefer to not go to places that just have a wine counter. We are open to spending up to $25 for a tasting, but would prefer to have a mix of costlier/cheaper places. (In terms of wines themselves, we would go up to about $80/bottle.)

Some wineries we have read good things about, but are not sure whether they fit the above bill: Lynmar, Copain, Ridge, Rafanelli, Swan, Unti, Porter Creek, Pride Mountain, Merry Edwards, Arista and Deerfield. We would really appreciate any thoughts on these, or any other recommendations you may have as we are feeling totally overwhelmed!!!


Edit - My gf wanted me to point out that we REALLY like chardonnay.

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  1. Thanks for doing all this research!

    Would skip Pride unless you are doing a Napa day - a good hour if not more away from the other wineries on your list.

    Warning - Healdsburg and Sonoma (the city) are really far from each other so restaurants in either location aren't particularly interchangeable. Of the wineries you listed:
    Lynmar - beautiful grounds. lots of chardonnays and pinots to pick from. pricey (at the top of your range). Would make an appt for their patio if you're going during a busy time of year (may - october)
    Copain - they just started being open for tastings in the last few months - so make sure to call ahead to see if they'll be open when they say they will be. They have beautiful grounds. They're not huge into chardonnay, but they do have some nice ones - more pinot/syrah centric. I did like a viognier I had from them so they do have nice whites in addition to their chardonnays.
    Ridge - Nice grounds a little more bustling, and near a main road so not as "wow I'm away" feeling, but their tasting room is next to these amazing gnarly old zin vines. Very zin centric in their tasting menus but there are always a few other wines available to taste (either their chardonnay, their cabs (which are legendary), or a syrah, carignagne blends)
    Porter Creek - no grounds per se - there's a tasting shed and chickens. Very pinot centric with some other offerings. Very Burgandian (French) and light weight in taste with an occasional funky note.
    Merry Edwards - no grounds just a tasting room. Pinots with an occasional sauvignon blanc. Very earthy pinots. Not my favorite wines, but she is legendary in the field.
    Arista - not much to their grounds. I've only tasted been there once - and it didn't really stand out to me. Some chards if I remember correctly but mostly pinot focused.
    Deerfield - tasting in caves - so that's interesting and different. very cab and red wine centric.

    Another thought - if you like big California type chardonnays (fruit/butter/oak) and big fruit cabs. Try Stonestreet. They have a beautiful patio, very low key, pricey (at the upper end of your range) but good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Thanks so much. This is amazingly helpful. We've done some reading about Stonestreet and think that is right up our alley. If you have any other similar recs, we would appreciate them. Thanks again.

      1. re: lnedrive14

        Atmospheric in a rustic/farmy way, you may want to give Robert Young a try if you end up by Stonestreet. Ridge FYI is just on the other side of the freeway from Stonestreet.

    2. Hi, you definitely did your homework. Please remember that Sonoma County covers a very large area, so driving distances between wineries can be a lot longer than you might expect. Once you get off the main highway 101, most roads are small and windy, and often not well marked. That can be fun and it's always lovely, but it can also make for a long day.

      You didn't mention where you would be staying. Healdsburg? In the town of Sonoma? As mentioned above, those two towns are actually quite a distance apart.

      This is a good website for maps, to get an idea where all the different wineries are:

      When I think Chardonnay I think about the Alexander Valley, it also has quite beautiful scenery. It's close to Healdsburg, just a little north and east of the town. There are quite a few wineries located along the same road, so you have a choice of a lot of wineries without too much driving.

      North and west of Healdsburg is the Dry Creek region, also with a large concentration of wineries.

      Tasting fees in Sonoma are likely to be more in the $10 range, and you still might find a few with no fee, or a fee only for reserve wines. There is nothing wrong with sharing a single tasting between the two of you, especially considering all the driving. Most wineries also waive the tasting fee if you buy even one bottle. A lot of wineries are also part of a program with VISA Signature, so if you happen to have one of those credit cards, you can get complimentary tastings and other discounts.

      Lastly, I would recommend BarnDiva for either lunch or a dinner in Healdsburg. If you happen to be there on a Wednesday they have a weekly prix fixe menu at dinner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pamf

        Thanks for your reply and all of the information. We are staying a bit south of Santa Rosa, but at planning to organize our wineries each day based on location (so, for example, we will do a day in Alexander Valley). On that note, do you have any specific wineries you would recommend in the Alexander Valley?

        Thanks for the BarnDiva rec. We think that might work out for dinner as we are actually going to be there on a Wednesday night (and have that dinner open at the moment). ]

        Also, those maps are great!

      2. I highly recommend Copain if you can get an appointment. They should have Syrah and Pinot to taste at least. Pinots are on the more restrained side. Great view/scenery.

        Rafanelli is one of my favorite Zin producers and they are in a great location on West Dry Creek Road. Not a great view or a place to taste leisurely while enjoying a view however, and they don't even have a regular counter. It's very informal. Last I visited a few weeks ago they had Zin, Cab and Merlot to taste.

        Nearby is Quivira which has very nice grounds and generally will have Syrah, Zin and whites to taste. Great picnic spot.

        Wilson Family is a Zin producer that has a nice patio/view. They are on Dry Creek Road, not too far from Rafanelli.

        Rochioli would be my choice for great Pinot with a view but not sure what they are tasting now and their tastings are often pretty limited.

        Swan is not much on scenery but a great place to taste Syrah and Pinot and their wines are well priced. Pretty much just a counter though and cold inside.

        Have not been to Unti in years so can't recall the scene there. Never been to the others.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MikeW

          Unti is lovely and their wines are not all made from the usual half-dozen grape varieties.

        2. So, after some further thinking and the help of those above, our itinerary is shaping up as follows. Would appreciate any further suggestions for the couple logistical issues we are having (or suggestions if we are making an egregious winery choice error). Thanks!!

          Day #1:
          9:45am - Land in SF
          12:15pm - Tasting at Lynmar (we may instead do this between Littorai and Freeman, depending on how long it takes to get to RRV -- if we get in early, we could possibly throw Iron Horse into the mix)
          1:30pm - Appointment for tour and tasting at Littorai
          4:00pm - Appointment at Freeman
          6:30pm - Pre-dinner beer at Bear Republic
          8:00pm - Dinner at BarnDiva

          Day #2 - This is the day we are still trying to figure out logistics
          10:00am - Unti
          11:30pm - Rafanelli
          1:00pm - Lunch???? We had initially hoped to do a picnic lunch at Copain, but Copain is so far south and the other wineries we wanted to go to are also in Dry Creek/Alexander Valley area. We would appreciate any lunch ideas here, preferably something quick)
          2:00pm - StoneStreet/Robert Young/Ridge (Any advice here? Ideally I think we would hit StoneStreet and Robert Young, but not sure on timing or winery preference)
          4:00pm - Copain
          7:30pm - Dinner at Farmhouse Inn
          10:00pm - Post dinner beers at Russian River Brewery

          Day #3
          10:00am - Appointment at Robert Hunter
          11:30am - Deerfield
          1:00pm - Audellsa (Anywhere further South that is worth going to so that we could do El Molino Central right after Deerfield and not have to go too far out of our way?)
          2:00pm - El Molino Central
          3:00pm - Head back to SF

          8 Replies
          1. re: lnedrive14

            Sojourn has the same winemaker as Audelssa (I believe) and is further south in the Sonoma square area. They release their wines young so there is a lot of oak and tannin when you taste but they develop into very full, nice wines. They're appt only.

            Maybe Hanzell (appt only)? Beautiful place but a little out of the way.

            You could also just take your chance with the wineries around the square that you can just drop in. I liked Hawkes and Roessler decently enough when I was there last. Adobe Road has some good reports.

            1. re: goldangl95

              Very interesting re: Sojourn. That sounds perfect. Hanzell is intriguing, but at $45/person for the tasting (of only 2 wines it seems), a bit out of our budget.

            2. re: lnedrive14

              For lunch on Day #2, consider Zazu on the River for amazing pork sandwiches by the Iron Chef alum Duskie Estes.

              They used to be Bovolo in downtown Healdsburg and an alternative would be to allow for serendipity in just wandering the Healdsburg square for whatever entices... There are some great, quick spots around there.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                Zazu on the River sounds great, I hope to try it next time we visit Healdsburg.

                Another option would be to head north through Dry Creek and then cross over to 101 to Geyserville and go to Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria.


                1. re: pamf

                  This is a great idea - only about 5 miles from Robert Young, so not taking us terrible out of our way. How is the traffic up there on a Thursday afternoon?

                  1. re: lnedrive14

                    Once you are that far north on 101 traffic is not an issue, barring some major disaster.

                    The road through Dry Creek Valley can be slow, it's narrow and winds, you may be driving 20 mph through some areas. Watch out for bicycle tour groups.

                    If you find yourself on West Dry Creek, check out Quivira.

              2. re: lnedrive14

                It's about 70 minutes from SFO to Lynmar in the best of conditions and add in time to get the car.. With traffic you may be cutting it close. What day is day one?

                1. re: wolfe

                  Day #1 is a Wednesday. Yeah, it isn't the end of the world if we don't get to Lynmar before Littorai, as I think we could probably pull it off between Littorai and Freeman -- will play it by ear depending on traffic and how long it takes to rent car, etc.